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Saturday, 24 May 2014

Ypres, Belgium

I just got home from five days in Ypres (pronounced Eepra) with my friends. We go to Belgium, without our ladies, every year to taste the food beer and take in some local 'culture'.
Ypres has a fascinating history. 100 years ago the First World War began and this little town stood in the way of the German advance into France. Most of its medieval and other buildings were flattened by relentless German bombing but were amazingly reconstructed as close as possible to the original so that now it has the unique feel of a 'new' medieval town.
The Cloth Hall, built from about 1200, pictured just after The Great War (WW1)
The reconstructed Cloth Hall today
The Wipers Times
The British soldiers had difficulty pronouncing the town's name so it became known as 'Wipers'. They produced a satirical newspaper called The Wipers Times from September 1916 until the end of the war, in which soldiers could get away with ridiculing their officers, who tried to close it down but the generals realised that it was good for morale so it was allowed to keep on publishing. You can see a brief clip from an acclaimed BBC TV Film about the Wipers Times here . The general sitting behind the desk is played by Michael Palin of Monty Python fame.
The Menin Gate
This marvellous memorial to 5,000 men killed in action but who never had a final resting place is situated at one of the ancient entrances to the walled city. Every single day of the year at 8pm the Last Post is played and a solo Scottish piper plays a lament.  (Amazing Grace on the evening that I was there).

The names of 5,000 soldiers are inscribed onto the inner walls of the memorial. The men were from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, India, the West Indies and all over the British Commonwealth. It is thought that up to 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the Ypres Salient in the Great War including French, Belgian and German as well as the Commonwealth men.
A small number of Belgian soldiers on bicycles with machine-guns held a large German cavalry battalion at bay for a long time but the Belgian Army, unlike the British one, was ill-trained and amateurish but very brave. Although the Germans eventually bombarded Ypres into ruin, they never occupied it during that war but Hitler went there in triumph in World War Two.
These days the Belgians are able to turn their efforts to better things such as excellent food and drink. If you get the chance to go don't miss it!


John said...

Great post Bazza about a subject that I am particularly interested in (the Great War). The Film you speak of is definitely worth a watch, funny and moving at the same time, written by Ian Hislop, I believe.
One day I hope to visit the area myself, but will have your insights until then.

bazza said...

Hi John. Yes it's a great film. You can see it here:
I saw the arches in the ramparts where they printed it. There is a whole industry around the two wars around that area. Well worth seeing if that is one of your interests!

loverofwords said...

I am going to learn so much from your blog! Have never been to Belgium but will cut and paste your post and put in my travel folder to use if I find myself in that area. My father was a huge student of history, being a White Russian who escaped the Civil War, Revolution. Wish he were still here to tell me more.

joanne fox said...

Haven't been to Ypres but the style of the rebuilt architecture reminds me very much of other Flemish towns I've seen. I never know why people have the impression that Belgium is boring. There is so much to see, do, eat and drink.

bazza said...

Natasha: Wow, some fascinating history of your own you have there!
I think White Russia is what is now known as Belarus? I am a great fan of Belgium and Flanders, the western half, in particular is full of historic old towns and cities.

bazza said...

Joanne: Yes it is very like many other Flemish towns except that a lot of the buildings are wonderful exact copies of the original with clean brickwork. Eat and drinking are very important to the Belgians; sensible priorities I would say!

Wendy said...

What a fascinating place. So steeped in history. I should like to go there some day.

And like loverofwords said, I am going to learn so much from your blog!

klahanie said...

Hey Bazza,

Another fascinating post from your good self. Another trip to Belgium and Ypres, no doubt, was better because of you and your friends being there.

I'm going to learn a lot from your blog! My ex wife is Belgium. That's all I'm saying.


bazza said...

Hi Wendy. It could hardly be further away from New Zealand but it's a part of Europe that tends to get overlooked. Well worth seeing!

bazza said...

Hello Gary. Well they are certainly better off financially since we were there! Was your ex Audrey Hepburn by any chance? Just askin'

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza .. I hadn't heard of the Wiper's Times .. but must look.

I love Belgium though haven't been often, but beer and mussels .. vino preferably ..

I'd like to visit Ypres now I know a little more .. I have a post or two to do on the War ... coming up I hope ..

Really interesting post .. thanks .. cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hello Hillary. I look forward to your wartime posts! You can see the play about The Wipers Times here:

klahanie said...

My ex wife lived the luxurious life of Audrey Hepburn. My ex wife is a celebrity in her own mind.

bazza said...

A legend in her own lunchtime, eh?

Trees Planet said...

Your Post really wonderful. We have very few knowledge about WW1. thank For everything.

Sherry Ellis said...

Fascinating history there! I've never been there, but since I like history, it's a place I'd like to see.

bazza said...

Trees Planet: Thank you for your kind words.

bazza said...

Hi Sherry. It's extra interesting because there is so much medieval and renaissance history in Europe but Ypres is mainly about the 20th century.

All Consuming said...

What a brill post. Interesting stuff and food for thought as well as for the belly on that holiday.Nice one :)

bazza said...

Hi AC. Yep, there was food (and drink!)for all the senses!

Denise Covey said...

Have been to Ypres to visit the Commonwealth and German graves. Hugely emotional experience.

bazza said...

Hi Denise. I feel that Ypres is a truly unique place. It is full of history but remains a place where one could happily live today,(and it's not just because of the beer!)